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The 10 Most Important IT Skills for 2020

Aug. 17, 2020
Ryan Day

These in-demand skills are must-haves for IT departments

To determine the most sought-after IT skills of the year, we analyzed the most popular Global Knowledge training courses, as well as the following data gathered from over 9,000 IT professionals from the upcoming 2020 IT Skills and Salary Report:

  • Most pursued IT certifications
  • Most challenging hiring areas
  • Top tech investment areas
  • Weakest IT skill sets

We also took into consideration the skills that will be most important during an economic recovery—a major factor for this year’s list as organizations of all sizes will be dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for the remainder of 2020 and beyond.

Heads up! The 2022 IT Skills and Salary Survey is open! Take the survey and contribute to one of the largest global studies of IT salaries, skills and certifications. Click here to take the survey.


If you’re looking to make an IT skills investment or start a new career path this year, these are the areas to consider

  1. Cybersecurity
  2. Cloud computing
  3. Data analytics and data science
  4. Networking and wireless
  5. Software development
  6. AI and machine learning
  7. Project management
  8. Programming
  9. IT service management
  10. Virtualization

1. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity jumps to the top of the list this year, due in large part to the pandemic. As many organizations have been forced to slow or reprioritize IT projects and investments, they must put more thought into which skills will help them rebuild. A recent survey by the International Data Corporation (IDC) revealed that organizations are prioritizing cybersecurity skills, whether they are in the midst of an economic downturn or experiencing slow growth.1

Cybersecurity is an area that cannot be ignored, even as budgets tighten. Our physical world has shrunk considerably in recent months, but the digital world remains a playground for cybercriminals who have developed new and devious tactics to obtain sensitive data. In fact, the number of attacks have increased since the pandemic started, with phishing emails up 667% since February.2

Prior to COVID-19, cybersecurity was still a priority. More than 50% of worldwide IT decision-makers expect their organization to invest in cybersecurity this year. And for the fifth straight year, cybersecurity is the most challenging hiring area in IT.3

“As the amount, frequency, and creativity of cybersecurity breaches grow, so does the shortage of cybersecurity professionals with the appropriate skills to defend the enterprise, government and military networks,” said Brad Puckett, Global Knowledge global portfolio director of cybersecurity. “This global shortage of cybersecurity professionals has created an in-demand market for anyone who wants to rise to the challenge and build career-advancing skill sets.”

View cybersecurity certifications >

2. Cloud computing 

Cloud skills are in high demand and cloud certifications are associated with the top salaries in IT. But the main reason cloud expertise is so essential is because it intersects with every other skill on this list.

Cloud has changed the game. Led by platforms like AWS and Microsoft Azure, cloud is the ultimate enabler, opening new channels of revenue by leveraging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Other topics like data analytics, networking, project management and cybersecurity all have been greatly influenced by cloud adoption.

Cloud computing is also the second highest IT investment area, and the second most challenging hiring area for decision-makers.3

As for its role in economic recovery, cloud administrator and cloud architect are two of the most recession-proof IT jobs. IDC also predicts that IT spending will drop 5.1% overall this year, but if there is growth, it will most likely be in the cloud. Some cloud deployments and investments may even be accelerated despite the pandemic.4

View cloud computing certifications >


The main reason cloud computing expertise is so essential is because it intersects with all of the important IT skills of 2020.


3. Data analytics and data science

New data will continue to accumulate, pandemic or not. Data analysts are hot commodities because organizations need professionals who can store and manage data. Data scientists are needed to dig into that data and understand how it can be used to solve problems and make informed decisions.

But it’s been a double-edged sword as organizations have struggled to manage the wealth of new data. By 2025, IDC estimates the world will create and replicate 163 zettabytes (ZB) of data, 10 times the number that was created in 2016.5 This new data is constantly accumulating, creating a host of storage and security risks that must be addressed. IT professionals are desperately needed to manage data growth. It’s a top challenge in IT, and it’s exacerbated by the fact that decision-makers can’t find enough qualified individuals with this specific skill set.

“Data is a crucial component for organizations and governments because it helps leaders make decisions based on facts and trends,” said Donovan Scott, Global Knowledge product leader. “Data scientists and analysts are supporting these efforts by extracting, processing and analyzing data to answer critical questions and make predictions.”

For IT professionals whose organizations are currently in an economic trough, over half say that data analytics will be an important skill as they navigate the road back to growth.1

Data analysts and scientists are already playing a big role in the health care industry in the fight against COVID-19.

“These roles are actively seeking to determine infection and transmission rates, health care system demand, and establish projections for local, state and national policy decision-making,” Scott said.

Become a data expert with the Data Academy by Develop subscription >

4. Networking and wireless 

According to Cisco, the number of devices connected to IP networks will be more than three times the global population by 2023.6 Network engineers and administrators will continue to be important job roles. IDC predicts that spending in areas like IT infrastructure shouldn't take a major hit during an economic slowdown.

Cisco is the market leader in networking and wireless technology, and IT professionals are seeking their certifications in droves. Cisco is the second most popular certification category in the world. In fact, of the nearly 10,000 survey respondents in our 2020 IT Skills and Salary Report, 22% have earned at least one Cisco certification.

Thirty-one percent of IT decision-makers say Cisco technologies will be a focus area for their company this year, while 15% expect their organization to invest in networking and wireless LAN.3

View networking and wireless certifications >


Cisco is the second most popular certification category in the world. In fact, of the nearly 10,000 survey respondents in our 2020 IT Skills and Salary Report, 22% have earned at least one Cisco certification.

5. Software development 

The software development job market is growing faster than most IT jobs. Software developer jobs are expected to increase by 21% by 2028 and application developer jobs by 28%. The reason for this growth is the increasing demand for computer software and mobile phone apps.7

Despite this demand, IT decision-makers say that mobile app development is one of their teams’ weaker skill sets. Any professional certified with these skills will be highly coveted and most likely highly compensated. North American IT professionals who are certified in application development earn nearly $140,000 a year.3

View developer training >

6. AI and machine learning 

As organizations increasingly use big data to make data-driven decisions, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning skills will continue to be in high demand. AI and machine learning are used to identify patterns and trends that humans can’t see or process using traditional methods.

They can also be used to automate time-consuming and menial tasks, which is crucial as nearly 50% of IT professionals say workloads are inhibitors for both work and training.3 It’s no surprise that AI and machine learning are key investment areas for 2020.

AI is also one of the most important skills for organizations whose business has been slowed due to the pandemic. Nearly every company now has employees working remote. AI and machine learning can be used to improve endpoint security, safeguarding the data and devices connected to the corporate network.

IDC predicts the AI market to experience a 12.3% growth year over year.8 This illustrates slower growth in this market than in recent years but IDC expects AI to recover more quickly than other areas.

“The pandemic has interrupted the momentum of AI services market growth in nearly all regions,” said Jennifer Hamel, research manager, Analytics and Intelligent Automation Services for IDC. “However, enterprise demand for AI capabilities to support business resiliency and augment human productivity will sustain double-digit expansion in 2020 even as other discretionary projects experience delays.”

As the need for AI and machine learning grows, IT decision-makers must find a way to procure training for their staff. According to the 2020 IT Skills and Salary Report, AI and machine learning is the second weakest skill area among those surveyed.3

View AI and machine learning training >

7. Project management

Eighty-seven percent of IT decision-makers say that skills gaps pose a medium to high risk for team objectives. That’s why project planning is more vital than ever.

There are plenty of roadblocks preventing projects from being completed on time and within budget. It’s a project manager’s job to create, communicate and execute a project strategy. Like it or not, IT is judged on the success or failure of projects.

“At a time when uncertainty is rampant, you need project management skills that help teams focus on providing the right value for their employers,” said Sean Braly, senior agile project manager and scrum master at Global Knowledge. “Pursuing excellence in project management by continued education and improvement allows you to deliver that value consistently and with high quality.”

Braly says change management and communication are two of his most valuable project management skills. It’s important how a project manager responds to change, sets expectations, resolves conflicts and communicates to multiple audiences.

IDC believes that by 2022, the financial impact of the IT skills gap will grow to $775 billion worldwide, from $302 billion in 2019, as a result of delayed release of products/service, missed revenue, or increased cost.9 A good project manager keeps the focus on the big picture even as disrupters emerge and cause havoc within a department.

Project Management Professional (PMP®) is one of the most important professional certifications. It’s currently the fifth highest-paying certification in the U.S. ($143,493).3 PMP is also one of the better options for cross-certification. Pairing this project management credential with other popular certifications can have a significant impact on your paycheck.

View project management certifications >

8. Programming

Computer programming jobs are expected to decline seven percent by 2028.10 But coding jobs, a subset of programming, should increase to 28 million worldwide in the next few years.11

Python, JavaScript and C# are some of the more popular programming languages. As mobile apps gain in popularity, the need for coders will rise in kind. Coding is also an important skill for network engineers. There is a greater need to automate configuration and operational tasks as network complexity increases.

As organizations become more data-driven, the demand for programmers is increasing, as are their salaries. IT professionals who work in programming or application development earn over $110,000 a year in the U.S. and Canada.3 Those who are certified earn almost $140,000 a year.

View programming training >

9. IT service management 

IT service management, most popularly associated with ITIL®, will undoubtedly play a major role in recovery efforts. Organizational objectives are likely to fluctuate in the ensuing months, so employing a set of detailed best practices to help align IT operations with business strategies will be crucial.

As organizations rely on a remote workforce, certified ITIL® professionals will play a major role in helping improve the capabilities of a physically disjointed team and manage the entire IT lifecycle during this tumultuous time.

ITIL® Foundation is the most popular certification in the world this year, as it’s held by 17% of our IT Skills and Salary Report respondent base.3 IT professionals who are certified in ITIL® and IT service management earn four percent more than the North American average.

View IT service management certifications >

10. Virtualization 

Virtualization remains a useful way to reduce IT expenses and increase IT agility, two capabilities that are sorely needed right now.

Virtualization is a key concern for companies of all sizes—this year it is the No. 8 tech interest area worldwide.3 Decision-makers are still investing heavily in the concept, and staff are seeking out these skills. VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization is the ninth highest-paying certification in the U.S., while Citrix Certified Professional - Virtualization (CCP-V) ranks 15th.

According to a Spiceworks report, virtualization adoption is expected to experience double-digit growth in the next two years.12 Server virtualization is already used by 92% of businesses, but areas like storage virtualization and application virtualization are also poised for higher adoption rates. Spiceworks predicts application virtualization rates will grow from 39% currently to 56% by 2021.

View virtualization certifications >



Just missed the cut

The Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain are two skill sets that are just outside the top 10. These emerging technologies are growing in usage while the amount of skilled professionals in these areas has yet to catch up.
Twenty percent of IT departments expect to invest in IoT in 2020. IDC anticipates worldwide IoT spending to slow in the near-term but rebound to double-digit growth for the period of 2020 to 2024.13 IoT is gaining traction because devices can be used to monitor processes and increase efficiency. This type of automation can boost business efficiency.

Blockchain is a developing technology that many organizations have not taken full advantage of yet. While IT decision-makers are eager to invest, they rate blockchain as the weakest IT skill set among their employees.3 To be fully realized in the IT space, more blockchain training is needed.

“Blockchain skills, especially development skills, continue to be in high demand,” said Donovan Scott. “As organizations and governments continue to study and establish use cases, professionals who understand the complexities and can implement solutions are highly desired.”

With supply chain disruptions that have emerged during the pandemic, organizations tracking inventory on blockchains have better insights into their products and overall supply pipeline. They can see product locations, roadblocks and can establish mitigation strategies to address challenges. These insights help organizations get products into the market quicker and provide customers and vendors with better information about the timing of availability.



  1. IDC Survey Spotlight, Road to Recovery: What Are the Most Important IT Skills WW to Support Organizational Recovery?, DOC# US46449720, July 2020
  2. Coronavirus phishing attacks up 667% since February, research finds, CIO Dive, March 26, 2020
  3. Global Knowledge 2020 IT Skills and Salary Report
  4. IDC Lowers Forecast for Worldwide IT Spending to a Decline of 5.1% in 2020, but Cloud Spending Remains Relatively Resilient, May 2020
  5. IDC, Data Management: Success with a Method to the Madness, Doc # US44415618, Nov. 2018
  6. Cisco Annual Internet Report (2018–2023) White Paper, March 2020
  7. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Software Developers
  8. IDC Forecasts Strong 12.3% Growth for AI Market in 2020 Amidst Challenging Circumstances, Aug. 2020
  9. IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Services 2020 Predictions, Doc# US44800319, Oct. 2019
  10. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Computer Programmers
  11. Rise of the machines: why coding is the skill you have to learn, The Guardian, Oct. 2018
  12. The 2020 State of Virtualization Technology, Spiceworks
  13. Worldwide Spending on the Internet of Things Will Slow in 2020 Then Return to Double-Digit Growth, According to a New IDC Spending Guide, June 2020